Film for thought: International program to screen movies in Altoona

An opportunity for viewing thought-provoking film work is coming to Altoona.

Pennsylvania is one of four states selected to show films from the Film Forward: Advancing Cultural Dialogue initiative.

Locally, the Altoona Area Public Library and the Penn State Altoona Devorris Downtown Center will show the following films: “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” “The World Before Her,” “The Rocket,” “If You Build It,” “Dancing in Jaffa,” “Valentine Road,” and “Circles.”

Admission is free.

The initiative is a partnership of Sundance Institute and four U.S. federal cultural agencies.

The initiative’s goal “is to create greater cultural understanding through the exhibition of film and conversation with filmmakers to really create a cultural dialogue,” said Meredith Lavitt, director of the Film Forward initiative.

“It’s aiming to bring independent films from the United States and internationally, and show everybody how alike we all are and bring a different viewpoint to people,” said Linda Filkosky, the District Library Consultant for the Altoona District, covering 13 libraries in Bedford, Blair and Huntingdon counties.

After the institute selects the films, filmmakers travel to four domestic and four international locations for gatherings such as screenings and workshops, according to the Film Forward website.

The movie “Fruitvale Station” is also part of the 2014 film lineup of the international touring program in its fourth year.

The State Library of Pennsylvania put in an application in order to present the 2014 films, Filkosky said. The more than 20 Pennsylvania libraries presenting the films in April, are among the spots in four other countries and three other states – California, Michigan and Mississippi – selected to show the films.

The first film showing will happen during National Library Week, a library press release said. Each film will have a moderator to guide the audience in discussion.

Amir B. Marvasti, a Penn State Altoona associate professor of sociology, is one of five faculty members moderating the films shown at the Devorris Downtown Center.

“The film festival is an important cultural event for the region,” he wrote in an email. “I expect the attendees will find the festival both entertaining and informative. While the films focus on specific stories and characters, the underlying themes explored in them are universal.”

Film Forward looks for universal themes with the ability to connect audiences. This year’s films share the themes of the transformative power of art, acceptance, and tradition colliding with modern ways, Lavitt said.

“We look for really strong story telling, and we look for films that really do have universal themes that we can show to a variety of audiences and then the themes sort of bubble up from there as we put the slate together,” she said.

The initiative hopes to bring the films specifically to those who are not the typical audiences for independent film, high school and college students, and other filmmakers to make an “artist-to-artist connection” and encourage the continuation of such story telling, Lavitt said.

“I’m hoping that when they see these films it’s really going to open their eyes to how other people live and how they phrase things and how they film things, and all the films that I’ve watched have been so striking and have made a real difference to me, so I’m hoping everybody gets the same affect when they watch it,” Filkosky said of what she hopes audiences will experience.

The films are sometimes “really gritty, thought provoking, just different from your ordinary movie that you would see at a theater,” she said. “All of them are just really fine films.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.